Over the years FX Network has produced a wide of array of late night more "adult" oriented programming: "Nip/ Tuck," "Rescue Me," "It's Always Sunny In Philidelphia." However over the past several years (coincidentally during my college years), most likely since the network passed on "Breaking Bad" we have seen FX take on a subtly different style and approach to their original late night programming; bringing the same amount of skin, but at a higher "quality."
In many ways the network's previous era of programs, originating in the early-mid 2000s, such as "The Shield" and "Rescue Me" was Fx's first attempt of bringing HBO to networks. Essentially FX was trying provide non-premium channel viewers with higher quality programming. However, although the above mentioned managed to capture high late night television ratings, these series lacked subtly, artistry, and a true auteurs cinematic and narrative vision. Content was stuck in constant state of grit, violence, alcoholism, and high intensity melodrama, basically taking all of the "R-rated" content from HBO programming and producing it with less $$ and prestige.
FX also lucked out in 2005 picking up hit series "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia".Not only did this draw even more viewers to the network, but also helped secure FX as a prominent late night viewing destination. "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" also, in my opinion, helped make more graphic and further the genre of comedy, I've deemed, "terrible people comedy," something that had previously mostly existed on Comedy Central.
Following their programmings initial success FX released several failed series of the same genre and style. This includes Courtney Cox in "Dirt", Andre Braugher in "Thief", and Minnie Drive + Eddie Izzard in "The Riches". Each series attempted to push the enveloped, however not only failed to draw in the ratings, but clearly were not able hook their current viewers.
"Sons of Anarchy" in 2008 became FX's new ratings magnet. Initially presented as an "art piece" loosely based on MacBeth, the series evolved from what initially could have been quality television, into arguably a darker, less trashy incarnation of FX's previous programmings. Despite the series failing to reach, what could have been, a major achievement in storytelling Kurt Sutter does make one of FX's highest rated series (based on this fall premier), and his series restored FX's faith in producing dark drama, for which we should all be eternally grateful.
Archer (2009 - )
Having just completed its WILD 5th season, "Archer" still reigns in the spring as the funniest, cleverest, and best written comedy on television. Creator/ Writer/ Voice Actor Adam Reed has put in his due time with late night programming on Adult Swim, producing series such as: "Frisky Dingo" and "Sealab 2021". Along with partner Matt Thompson the two develop a clear style, humor, and pacing to their programming. Archer's premier in 2009, along with "The League" (now on FXX), has made FX a leading station in comedy (I pretend "Anger Management" doesn't exist). More importantly it has made the station more aware of its own prestige in comedy and more willing to take chances on new ideas and concepts. The reason "Archer" is brilliant is because despite the series being at its core plain terrible person comedy, we as an audience are kept captivated by a truly amazing voice cast, and a hilarious array of subplots, continuity jokes, and lasting one liners.
Archer will still be remain king as long as its creators "Don't give a F***" attitude never fades, and although not as satirically relevant as "South Park," is in many ways to my college generation as "South Park" was to a previous generation when it was first released in the 90s.
Louie (2010 - )
As much as I would like to give SOLE credit to Louie C.K. for pioneering the "we do everything" method, it's Glenn Howerton and Robby McElhenney who first made this arrangement with FX. Having finished its fourth season in June, "Louie" is one of the only shows on television, produced, edited, shot, and written all by one man: comedian Louie C.K. Despite being one of the lowest rated (no one watches this on television) series on FX, Louie represents a chance at a formulaic change in how television is made. Louie C.K. has almost COMPLETE creative control over his series, which gives the show a living personality. This doesn't just mean drawing from Louie C.K. 's stand up and personal stories, but his literal emotions. "Louie"'s darker and slightly too real humor is a delightful and hysterical insight into the mind of an aged (but not too old) comedian and member of the entertainment industry. This series defines the statement "the most talked about series on television are the least watched," judging from the series low viewer numbers and high critical acclaim.
Bradley Cooper may be a movie star, but you Mr. C.K. are changing the way we look at television production.
You're The Worst (2014 - )
I've already said a lot about Stephen Falk's hit comedy of the summer "You're the Worst," but the series also can be linked to FX's new direction for the network. Having already tested the waters with "Archer" and taking a low budget risk with "Louie" FX needed a new series that drew people in not just for the dark humor or pure comedy, but also for empathy and attachment.
"You're The Worst" succeeds in creating a series that mirrors the humor, crudeness, and mayhem of many other "terrible people" themed comedies on FX, but also manages to also present characters we can empathize with and a story we can relate too. "You're the Worst" perfectly captures the hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties of the younger generation slowly creeping into "true adulthood" and presents them in a hilarious, whimsical, and relatable manner.
If you haven't started this series, I suggest you start right now.
The Americans (2013 - )
I think many people never saw the day where we would find ourselves watching Felicty half-naked killing people on television. However that day has come to pass, and Keri Russell's performance/ her character in "The Americans" is just one reason of many reasons to watch this series.
Clearly FX's response the popularity of Showtime's "Homeland," "The AmericansT" after a bumpy first season easily became the superior series. Boldly making this statement: I don't believe "The Americans" will ever accomplish what "Homeland" did season one, however after this last (second) season "The Americans" has proved itself worthy of quality television and much longer life than "Homeland." [I'm sorry Angela : ( ]
With dark undertones, an exploration of morality, loyalty, and family, "The Americans" is an exploration of Russian sleeper agents during the 1980s. The most ingenious part about this period choice is that the internet has yet to play a major factor in international espionage allowing writers to lessen the scope and scale of spy related activities and communication. Its period drama that feels a little closer to home. #1980s
My good friend and colleague once said, "The Americans does the punch very well, but what keeps me watching is how quickly the counter-punch swings back."
Similarly so "The Americans" quick and successful response to a premium channel program goes to show FX can play with the big boys of quality.
The Bridge (2013 - )
I suppose after passing on "Breaking Bad" all those years back FX needed another artistic and dark series in which they could display the beauty of the desert. Their answer came in the form of a converted danish series (Bron) series named "The Bridge". Produced and written by Eli Reid and Meredith Stiehm is dark crime drama focusing on murders, crime, and life along the Juarez / El Paso border.
The series took major flack for its almost exact imitation of the villain from the danish version, however writer learned from their mistakes of season one, and this past season (which just ended) showcased signs to be one of the strongest crime dramas on television. Even since season one "The Bridge" had already captured a unique little world to use as their setting: The Border. The series does a wonderful job bringing insight in the world across the border, as well as giving a voice the Latin American/ Mexican community. The series also should praised in it use of female Actresses (Diane Kruger, Emily Rios) and a Hispanic lead (Demián Bichir).
More importantly Eli Reid has created some wonderful side characters and subplots/ stories/ relationships which keep the world hes built alive. Everyone has stakes and everyone is given a voice.
"The Bridge" has already surpassed "Justified" as FX's western influenced crime drama.
Fargo (2014 - )
"Fargo" and "True Detective" will constantly be at war with each other each spring for America's viewing soul. I only believe "True Detective" got more public (not critic) attention because of its more star studded cast. Please don't get me wrong, I LOVE "TRUE DETECTIVE" and Rust Cole, but I also believe "Fargo" deserves equal recognition as a crime drama.
Based on the Cohen brother's film "Fargo", "Fargo" takes place in the cold mid-west as murder, mystery, and mayhem unfold after a roaming hit-man rolls through town. Dark, clever, and also incredibly well written "Fargo" earned its place in the lime light winning two out of its eight Emmy nominations including BEST MINISERIES.
Unlike the gritty intensity of "True Detective," "Fargo" stays true to the more whimsical nature of the Cohen brothers style. However, the series still delivers a chilling tale, which will have you shaking in your boots and also laughing out loud. Oh...and awkwardly trying to do a Minnesota accent.
As a piece of standalone art I have to give the prize to "True Detective," however, as a more successful series truly created for television my hat is off for "Fargo". The pacing, the content, and the unassuming nature of the series, in my opinion, will make it a more successful series in the long run.
Like "True Detective," each season of "Fargo" will feature a different cast, characters, and locations (in the Midwest) as each season will be a different era.
All six of the above mentioned comedies and dramas all are signs that FX is hiring intelligent and talented writers. With the recent move of many of their popular late night comedies such as "It's Always Sunny in Philedelphia" and "The League" to their new network FXX, one could speculate the network is looking to re-brand itself. With the reign of AMC coming a close (because that network can't make good choices....) FX could easily rise to the forefront as the most critically acclaimed network on television.
FX's "quality programming" is/ will continue to be successful because they have been making premium television slightly more accessible and more importantly still paced like television. I hope the gods of television are kind and the next comic book series that gets made appears of FX. #X-23